A Welsh couple are encouraging would-be adopters to take in older children as part of a new national campaign.
Becky and Tim adopted a five-year-old boy several years ago after raising two of their own children and described the experience as “hugely rewarding”.
They are backing the Too Old at 4? campaign to mark National Adoption Week (19-25 October), which is encouraging people to consider adopting children aged four and over.
Older children waiting to be adopted are often likely to be in sibling groups or to have additional needs, and there is currently a shortage of adoptive parents willing to take these children.
New figures released today by the National Adoption Service for Wales reveal it takes more than double the amount of time to place children aged four and above than those aged under four.
The figures show that since June 2014 the average length of time it takes to place children aged four and older in Wales is 15 months, while the average time it takes to place those aged under four is seven months.
Becky and Tim decided to adopt an older child after a conversation with a relative who works for social services about how difficult it is to find homes for older children.
Becky, 39, said:
“We were lucky enough to raise our two children from birth. We wanted to give a child who needed a family what our children had.
“I think people assume if you adopt a baby or toddler it’s going to be easier to bond or they will come with less problems. An older child might have had a traumatic background but you shouldn’t assume it is going to be harder or have a less positive outcome for the child because that’s not always the case; it wasn’t in our experience.
“An older child has more of a sense of who they are. As long as you are open and help them talk through their issues it can be a positive experience.”
“For us it has been a joy. Knowing that we have been able to provide a child with that permanency is hugely rewarding.”
Her husband Tim, who runs the family farm, said:
“We found the whole process manageable; it was exhausting at times but we never felt completely overwhelmed.
““Our son now has security, consistency and comfort in his family, something he never had before.”
Launched in November 2014, the National Adoption Service aims to improve services for all those affected by adoption and speed up the adoption process in Wales.
The service is being led and delivered by local government, working closely with voluntary sector partners and is a key part of the Welsh Government’s plans for transforming the way social services are delivered in Wales.
Figures published in July revealed that in 2014/15, it took on average 16.5 months to place a child for adoption in Wales, down from 26 months the previous year.
Suzanne Griffiths, director of operations for the National Adoption Service, said:
“We know that the average wait for children to be adopted in Wales has fallen, but it still takes longer to place older children.
“Most of the adopters who come in to the system want to adopt the youngest, least complex children they can. We fully understand that, but there are older children coming through the care system who need adopting, and we believe that these deserve as much of a chance at a happy family life.”
Ms Griffiths said there are a number of misconceptions about adopting older children:
“When we say older children what we usually mean is children between 4 and 7 year of age, rarely teenagers. So these are still very young children who need lots of nurturing and hands on parenting.
“Many parents might also want those ‘firsts’ with a new child, such as first word or first tooth, and fear they won’t get that with an older child.
“You do get get firsts - first day at school, first rugby match, first party dress - they just start from a different point.
“Like Becky says we know people may worry the bonding between them and the child which is natural but even children who have had difficult experiences are resilient and respond to caring, nurturing parenting. There is advice and support available should parents need this.”
Welsh Government Health and Social Services Minister Mark Drakeford said:
“I’m pleased to see the National Adoption Service having a positive impact on the adoption process in Wales, reducing the time it takes for families to adopt a child.
“I’m also pleased to support the Too old at 4? campaign. Every child growing up in Wales deserves the change to grow up as part of a loving family. Adopting a child is a very demanding, but rewarding experience. I want to encourage prospective adopters to come forward, speak to the experts and help play a part in giving some of our most vulnerable children the very best start in life.”